Government hampered by “restrictive” public finance law, says President Yameen

Amendments brought to the Public Finance Act by the opposition-controlled parliament during the three-year tenure of former President Mohamed Nasheed are posing challenges and difficulties to successive administrations, President Abdulla Yameen has said.

The amendments (Dhivehi) voted through in June 2010 stipulated that the executive must seek parliamentary approval before either obtaining foreign loans or leasing state property. Nasheed at the time declared that the law would make it “impossible for the government to function.”

Addressing supporters in the island of Naifaru in Lhaviyani atoll Sunday night (May 4),Yameen claimed that laws imposing “various restrictions” on the executive were passed by the People’s Majlis due to the “irresponsibility” of the former head of government.

But former President Dr Mohamed Waheed had also faced “difficulties” in governing after succeeding Nasheed in February 2012, Yameen said adding: “This is the problem we are facing as well.”

The executive was still forced to seek parliamentary approval “even for a MVR1,000 (US$65) loan,” he said.

“Scorched earth” tactics

The passage of the amendments in 2010 prompted the en masse resignation of President Nasheed’s cabinet on June 29 in protest of the opposition’s alleged obstruction and “scorched earth” policy.

While former Special Majlis MP Ibrahim Ismail ‘Ibra’ characterised the amendments as the “grand finale of decimating the executive” by wresting control from the executive, the Nasheed administration filed a case at the Supreme Court contesting the constitutionality of some provisions.

Yameen, who was leader of the minority opposition People’s Alliance at the time, said Nasheed’s “selling off of state assets and giving up uninhabited islands” had prompted the opposition’s actions.

“When many such actions that were harmful to the public occurred, a group of people advocating as the people’s representatives – myself included – determined things that cannot be done without a say of the parliament and passed a law called the Public Finance Act to hold the government accountable,” he said.

Following the controversial transfer of power in February 2012, the new administration – made up of former opposition parties – sought to reverse the restrictions concerning the sale and lease of state properties.

In December 2013, the Auditor General’s Office revealed that President Waheed’s administration violated finance laws in securing a domestic loan worth MVR300 million (US$ 19.45 million) from the Bank of Maldives (BML) for budget support.

Yameen also noted that he inherited an MVR30 billion (US$2 billion) national debt when he assumed office in November.

“That means to reach the ground I have to travel 30,000 million feet,” he said.

Coalition discontent

Contrary to Nasheed and Waheed, Yameen said he did not anticipate difficulties due to non-cooperation from the legislature as the Progressive Coalition – comprising of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and coalition partners Jumhooree Party (JP) and Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) – has secured a comfortable majority in the incoming 18th People’s Majlis.

But Yameen has admitted to “some discontent” within the ruling coalition due to a dispute over which party should control the seat of Majlis Speaker.

“The public should work to change this discontent among us to contentment,” he said, adding that constituents should demand the cooperation of opposition MPs as well as JP MPs.

Yameen suggested that the public voted for candidates fielded by the JP and MDA due to the trust the Maldivian people had in PPM leader, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Stressing the importance of the public’s backing and support for the government, Yameen urged constituents to “constantly remind” their MPs that they would not have “a second chance” if they vote against government proposals.

As the public voted for a change in both the presidential and parliamentary elections with high hopes for economic progress, Yameen said that the government’s policies and development projects should not be hindered due to problems within the coalition.